Guest Article: Parag Tembulkar: On second thoughts, what's wrong with first ones?

By Parag Tembulkar , Independent, New York | In Advertising
Last updated : May 04, 2012
First thoughts come from well-massaged instincts. How can they be wrong?

"That's kinda interesting. But keep going."

"Yeah, that's sort of cool. But let's see if we can get some more tomorrow?"

"Like it. But I don't want you to stop thinking."

Parag Tembulkar

How many times have we heard this when we were young creatives? How many times have we said this as creative directors ourselves?

In an effort to keep pushing for new ideas, are we killing really good ones that come from gut, instinct and a pure place - just because they are first thoughts? Just because we may be pseudo-perfectionists? Or just because we may be, well, just lazy?

Jim Riswold, the legendary creative director of Wieden+Kennedy, and someone I've had the good fortune of working and sculling lager with, told me something a few years ago that I thought was pretty profound. (Or maybe we were on our sixth pint by then.)

"Sometimes first thoughts are the best thoughts because they're so instinctive. All you have to do is recognise that thought, circle all wagons around it and go for the kill."

So easy, right? It probably is; if you're Jim Riswold.

Or if you're Piyush Pandey...whom I remember pitching in with an awesome idea every now and then as he stopped by us creative cubs "manufacturing cleaver stuff". So instinctive, so effortless, so simple. "Think with your heart (insert expletive here)!" he'd say, as he would walk past us and down the corridors that resonated with a Pandey laugh.

John Hunt, ex-worldwide creative director at TBWA, never stopped reminding us to "listen to your gut before it goes away". (Please pick up a copy of his 'The Art of The Idea - and how it can change your life'. A refreshingly simple, thoughtful and inspiring book on pursuing ideas and creativity in general.)

If we think about it, first thoughts come from a sub conscience that never sleeps. They come from a gut, a heart that is pure. They come from a communicative mind that has sponged greedily for years; that has a perpetually upright antenna. To some blessed folk, first thoughts and ideas are summoned at will...from the deep recesses of their sub conscience; effortlessly and almost always spot on. First thoughts come from well-massaged instincts. How can they be wrong?

Great creative directors have this incredible intuition to recognise them. They rarely let them drift anywhere near the bottom drawer. They notice them and make them better and better.

So there, then. Having a great idea (whether it comes from first thoughts or not) is not enough. It's what you do with it that really matters.

The real work starts after the idea has been "cracked". That's when you really, really need the team(s) to "keep going". Keep going through crafting hell. Keep going till they reach the edge and dangle on potential greatness.

Chuck McBride, another legendary creative director ("Got Milk?", "Impossible Is Nothing", "Never Hide"), made me "write till it f***ing pains...and then write some more."

Erik Vervroegen, my ex boss at TBWA Paris (who works harder than anyone because he's forever terrified that everyone is more talented than him); will always tell you "the magic is in the hard work". The endless hours you put into crafting, crafting, crafting. At this year's Goafest, did he show you the original scribbled thought that was behind the Grand Prix winning PlayStation ad? Most creative directors would've said this is "sh*t" or "keep going" or missed it completely. Erik saw the idea quickly, "a bit" differently, and made the team go: Go and craft the hell out of that idea till it could be, months later, crafted no more.

So what is the message for us creative directors in this suspiciously preachy ramble?

Here's what I have been able to learn from my experiences of working with the above-mentioned not-so-gentle-men. Although accomplished creative directors may already know and are well versed in the pursuit of plucking nuggets, it may not hurt to occasionally remind ourselves, does it?

Don't just hire interesting people with interesting stories only to make them uninteresting and unconfident. Be really alert to first thoughts from such people because the best ideas may be there. (Sure, there will almost always be a need for some heavy duty chaffing. Or most may actually suck. In which case, there may be a need to revisit your hiring policy.)

A good part of our talent as directors of creation lies in recognising that moment from those precious first moments of inception, those first few moments of birth, which may never unfold that beautifully again. We need to be a bit more sensitive to this before we shoo teams away to come up with more ideas. (And before all of us are sucked into the freely abused science of reason, logic and research.) Only then, push them to "keep going".

In my personal opinion, I'd rather be a slave driver after I've worked hard at recognising the idea than before it. Because the best thoughts and ideas, as thousands may have told you earlier, are the simplest. And may I add, effortless.

You may want to save the efforts for later when you're in Executionland; where you can legally torture yourself and the people around you.

It's an S&M kind of way.

Parag Tembulkar (aka is a consultant creative director based in New York and is prone to writing the occasional advertising article after prolonged second thoughts.

First Published : May 04, 2012

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